Vuelta a Espana

Difficult start in Spain

Leopard Trek capture opening stage

Last updated: 22nd August 2011

Team Sky endured a tough start to the Vuelta a Espana during the opening team time trial in Benidorm.

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The team crossed the line with five riders in a time of 17 minutes and 12 seconds as Xabier Zandio put in a brave dig to place himself as the all-important fifth man.

A crash in the early stages saw the team immediately placed on the back foot, with Kurt-Asle Arvensen caught up and Zandio forced to bridge back to the rest of the team on the 13.5-kilometre course.

A momentary loss of communication in the closing kilometres didn’t aid matters with the team finishing the stage 42 seconds down on the best time of the day.

That honour went to Leopard Trek who clocked fastest time on the stage to place Jakob Fuglsang into the race lead in the Spanish sun.

The Luxembourg squad also finished with five riders but in a time of 16:30 to ensure the Dane became the first recipient of the red leader’s jersey.

Liquigas were the second team home with defending champion Vincenzo Nibali’s squad only just coming up short four seconds back.

HTC-Highroad also put in a strong time to take third on the day, five seconds back, despite finishing without Mark Cavendish and Tony Martin in their final six riders.

Fuglsang now leads his first Grand Tour on the same time as his four team-mates, with Fabian Cancellara, Maxime Monfort, Thomas Rohregger and Daniele Bennati rounding out the top 5.

Demanding opener

A tough 3km uphill drag out of the start line made life difficult for teams with a number of riders finding themselves quickly tailed off as the three-week stage race got under way.

A number of other teams went away from the beachfront disappointed, with pre-stage favourites Garmin-Cervelo, the American squad only able to notch a time seven seconds back on first team home Skil-Shimano.

RadioShack also endured a tough start as team-leader Janez Brajkovic suffered mechanical problems off the start ramp which forced the remaining eight riders to slow their pace to wait for the Slovenian.

The stage was notable for a number of mechanical issues seemingly caused by a steep and narrow start ramp on the beachfront.

Liquigas were the final team off the ramp and fastest out of the starting blocks, quickest by one second at the 7km intermediate split.

Despite the efforts of the Italian squad the day belonged to Leopard Trek and a surprised new race leader Fuglsang.

Lessons learned

After the stage we caught up with Sports Director Steven de Jongh who admitted the opening stage had not gone to plan.

“It was a really tough start,” he said.

“We lost Kurt after a kilometre. He came down and Zandio was also held up. Xabier had to chase down the group after that and then in the final we were down with four guys.

"We are disappointed with the start but we have to look beyond that and there are still plenty of positives to take from today. Kurt is looking really fit and Bradley is looking super strong.

"If you look at the overall picture, Bradley only lost around 20-25 seconds on his main rivals, which isn't a lot really and it could have been worse. Everyone is okay so we will try to make up that time when the chance arises.”

Chris Sutton explained in more detail how the stage panned out, adding: "That wasn’t the best of starts to be honest. We’d gone over everything a lot in the past few days and thought we had it down to a tee. We’d changed the order a few times and got it perfect, and we started out great.

"Kurt led us out because he’s so experienced at these things. We began by taking things easy, but not too easy, set a good tempo, and it was all going well until there was a touch of wheels or something which meant Zandio had to unclip. Kurt also crashed at that point which was hard because it meant everyone behind him had to chase a couple of bike-lengths to get back on.

"We regrouped as best we could and gave it everything, and although we lost 42 seconds, over a three-week race that’s going to be insignificant. It would’ve been nice if we could have got a result for Bradley, but we all gave it 100% and that’s all you can ask for at the end of the day.

"Zandio deserves special praise because he did brilliantly to get back on after unclipping. He gave a huge effort to chase up that hill and having him there with us was a big bonus.

"Tomorrow’s stage is one that I’ll be looking to do well in as a sprinter. I’m feeling strong so I’ll try and get in the mix and test out the legs and see how I go. I’ve done a few sprints in training over the past few days and have been hitting some good numbers, but obviously in a race situation after 174km anything can happen. I’d love to get a stage win but there’s so many good sprinters here so we’ll have to see. I’m just grateful to get the opportunity to get the chance to go toe-to-toe with those guys in a Grand Tour."